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Competitive deficiency: is it technological or managerial?

The United States has proven that it does well at adapting military technology. Witness the war with Iraq. It's unfortunate that it can't be as creative in putting commercial technology to work at winning the economic war being fought over world markets.

That's the much-publicized conclusion of the two-year study recently released by the Washington-based Council on Competitiveness. It studied 94 technologies that, it claims, will be key to productivity, economic growth, and competitiveness in the United States during the 1990s and concluded that the US has fallen behind in more than a third of them.

Many of the technologies it found that the US was "weak" in or that it had "lost" or was "losing badly," if correct, bode ill for the future of metalworking manufacturing. The list includes: advanced metals; design for manufacturing; design of manufacturing processes; flexible manufacturing; high-speed machining; integration of research, design, and manufacturing; precision bearings; precision machining and forming; total quality management; integrated circuit fabrication; robotics; and automated equipment.

The council's conclusions weren't new. Similar studies have pointed out that the US has difficulty in converting new technology into products, processes, or services. "As a result of intense international competition, America's technological edge has eroded in one industry after another," the report claims. "Unless American firms improve their ability to reach out and bring technology to market... US competitiveness will continue to erode."

Statements about American industry losing its technological edge have been iterated so often they roll off the tongue as truisms. We've said it before, but it bears repeating-American industry losing its competitive edge has more to do with dull management than with dull technology.

The council's findings substantiate my feelings. It points out that the automotive industry's problems are rooted in something it terms "weakness in organizational technologies" such as quality management and integration of research, design, and manufacturing. In other words, inept management. The malady, however, isn't limited to the automotive industry; it's broader than that.

A survey conducted by Deloitte & Touche, a Cleveland, OH, management consultant (see T&P, May 1991, pg 15), points out world-class status in a manufacturing firm is predicated on its ability to absorb advanced technology into every facet of its operation.

Before that can happen, the Competitiveness Council suggests that a solution to the problem of poor management can only come through a change in corporate culture. That's easier said than done, particularly when you consider that any change in corporate culture can only come after a change has been effected in the mentality inherent in poor management.

Stanley J Modic

COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Modic, Stanley J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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